After lunch, I did not go to the garden as usual but stayed in the parlor.
Having revealed my identity yet survived, I could not meet the assassin and die. 

The number of knights guarding the forests, temples and gardens doubled. 

Waiting anxiously for Lucerne, I stared at the books that would not turn pages.

Lucerne returned to the parlor only when the sun declined past midday.

“You’ve returned,” I said. 

Walking heavily, Lucerne sat down on the parlor window seat, propped his chin on his fingertips and sighed.

“But of course, he said it wasn’t his doing.
Instead, he mentioned that there may still be nobles who are after my neck.
It’s true that even though Isaac is dead, there are still those who want to kill me and take the throne.”

As Lucerne gazed out the window, he traced his neck with his fingertips and spoke quietly.

“But honestly, I don’t think the nobles would attempt such a sloppy assassination.
They must have learned something over the past 20 years.”

It was a chilling remark.

I had always felt it, but what kind of life had Lucerne lived? It was both pitiful and frightening, and sad as well.
It was a digression, but I still wanted to ask, to know, to embrace him.

The reception room fell silent.

Outside, the chirping of birds gradually subsided over the long evening sunset.
The red energy emanating from Lucerne’s vicinity felt like blood.
Was this the calm before the storm? My heart trembled with unease.

* * *

Several days had passed, but there were no suspicious individuals or other assassination attempts.
The children were very frustrated that they couldn’t leave the mansion, and we finally went out to the garden after a few days.
We watched the children play, surrounded by many knights, feeling as if the air was thick.

Lucerne constantly used minor magic to ensure that my body, water bag, and tea didn’t get cold.
The once fearsome tyrant seemed to have become adept at daily life.

While pressing my lips together, I simply smiled.
From one side of the garden, Geo, who was busy molding something with mud, would occasionally run towards me.

“Mom! Look at this.
I made a doll for you.”

“Oh, my, a doll for me?”

It was a solid doll made of mud.
Yellow leaves were stuck among the twisting strands of hair, and green berries were stuck in the eye area.
The dress was adorned with colorful decorations of flowers and autumn leaves.

“Oh my, it’s so beautiful.
Even better than the real thing.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re much more beautiful.
I’ll practice and make an even prettier one next time.”

“Thank you.
We should bring a display shelf to the garden.
If we want to neatly organize all the things Geo made, we’ll need a really big shelf.”

Geo nodded happily, smiling widely.
Their cheerful, dirt-covered face was adorable, so I hugged Geo tightly.

“Our adorable Geo.”

“Oh no, Mom is even more adorable.”

My heart ached, and I peppered Geo’s cheeks, forehead, and nose with little kisses.

I was happy, but as much as I was happy, I was also sad.

If the children were to find out that I’m not Astia but Hyerim, they would probably react just like Lucerne.
Should I keep the truth hidden from the children until the end?

When I was with Lucerne, I could be like a doll, without any thoughts.
But when I met the children, my heart would melt like a marshmallow.
It felt like tears would constantly well up in my eyes, and my nose would tingle.

Seti, who was playing with dolls nearby, noticed us and dropped the mirror and doll he was holding, then ran towards us.

“Mom! Seti wants a kiss!”

“Yes, yes.
Seti also gets a kiss.”

Surprisingly, Seti opened her mouth wide and left a wet mark on my cheek.
This is a kiss? Where on earth did she learn this?

Despite the damp spit on my cheek, I didn’t show any reaction and gave Seti a kiss on her cheek as well.
Rie and Marley, who were playing nearby but noticed our kissing, ran towards us, leaving their toys behind.
Rie, who was close by but walked slowly, and Marley, who was far away but walked fast, arrived almost at the same time.

“Mom, you only give kisses to Geo and Seti!”

“Move aside, I came first!”

“No, me! I came first! Mom, give me a kiss first!”

“Mom, me, give me a kiss first!”

The two kids leaned their cheeks towards me and pouted their lips, demanding to be kissed first, while Seti joined the chorus.

“Mom, kiss!”

Being pushed by their siblings, Geo moved back and forth, busy giving kisses to the left and right.

“Uh, uh, uh, kids, be careful! It should be one at a time!”

“Seti has to go first!”

“You, move aside! Mom is mine!”

“What are you talking about? Why is Mom yours?”

“Come on, kids, stop fighting and come here.”

I pressed Rie’s and Marley’s cheeks together, then gave them both a kiss in the middle, and finally planted a gentle kiss on each of their foreheads.

While looking at the satisfied and smiling children, I couldn’t help but laugh foolishly.

After releasing the children back into the garden, I wiped the spit-covered cheek with the back of my hand.

Realizing that Lucerne was staring at me, I felt embarrassed and averted my gaze with a dry cough.
My eyes fell on the teacup.
It was empty, I didn’t even notice when I finished drinking it.

There was.
I raised my hand and called for a servant who was serving tea.

“Could I get some tea here, please?”

Shortly after, instead of the tea-serving servant, an unfamiliar maid appeared and poured tea into the teacup.
For some reason, she was trembling, and the spout of the teapot kept clinking against the teacup.

Why is she like that? Is she cold?

Thanks to Lucerne’s magic, I didn’t feel cold even in light clothing.
I lifted my head to look at the sky and trees.
The sunshine was warm and there was no wind.
The children didn’t seem very cold either.

I bent over to check on the maid. 

“Hey, are you okay?”



The maid screamed and dropped the teapot.
The expensive teapot engraved with delicate flowers and vines shattered on the floor, and hot tea splashed everywhere.

Lucerne flashed over to stand in front of me protectively.

“What is the meaning of this?!”

“I-I’m sorry, Your Highness.
I’ve committed a grave sin!”

“Astia, are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“That’s good…”

Lucerne, who had looked relieved, suddenly frowned again as he looked down at the floor.


I followed his gaze down and was shocked.
The grass touched by the tea had turned black.

The maid was trembling uncontrollably, nothing like when she had poured the tea, and was lying flat on the floor.

“Ahh! I’m sorry, Your Majesty! I, I…”

The other maids watching from the sides were also shocked and kneeled themselves on the floor.

Lucerne picked up my teacup without answering, smelled it, and took a sip.
His pupils seemed to constrict, and then a dazzling blue light burst out from his body.


“Don’t do it!”

I was so surprised I froze in place.

Only then did I notice the sharp smell mixed with a disgusting scent.

I gestured to Caleb, who was watching the situation from the back.

The perceptive Caleb nodded and led the children out of the garden.

After the children had all left, Lucerne flung the teacup into the air.
The teacup and the tea in it turned into black ash.

“…How dare you.”

Icy anger surged within him.
Even though I knew his anger wasn’t directed at me, chills ran down my spine and my chest felt cold.

The maid, who had been trembling as if competing, slowly floated up into the air.
Her body stretched out as long as if being lifted up by the neck.

“Ah! Ugh, heh, khek.”

“You dare to use poison in my palace? Right before my eyes? Even tearing your limbs apart while alive won’t satisfy me.”

The maid struggled, clawing at her own neck with her fingertips.
But the blue light coiling around her neck didn’t budge against human hands.
Her face contorted, then turned deathly pale.
She opened her mouth wide, gasping for air, but couldn’t breathe in or out.

I grabbed Lucerne’s sleeve and shouted, “Stop! You’re going to kill her! Lucerne!”

“Yeah, I’ll kill her.”

“You said you wouldn’t kill anymore.
You said you won’t kill people.
Did you forget?”

“If I let her live, there will be consequences.
Cutting off the root and eliminating it is the cleanest solution.”


I screamed, but Lucerne didn’t respond.

The blue light tightened around the maid’s throat.
Her face turned purplish and her eyes rolled back.
Her struggling legs went limp.

No, no!

I didn’t want to witness someone dying in front of me anymore.

I tightly closed my eyes and shook my head.
I had to think of a reason why Lucerne shouldn’t kill this maid.
Quickly! Anything!

“If… if you kill her, we won’t be able to retrieve her memories! There might be someone behind her!”

Lucerne’s large shoulders trembled.

The blue light that was choking the maid’s throat expanded in all directions.
The maid was still hanging in the air, but she coughed continuously as if she could breathe.

Lucerne, with emotionless eyes, murmured, “Yeah.
To confirm the one behind this, I have to see her memories.”

It was a painful voice.

The magic surrounding Lucerne disappeared as if it were abruptly cut off.
The maid, who had been hanging, fell to the ground with a thud.
She coughed violently as if expelling her internal organs.
The sounds of choking, coughing, and retching continued for a long time.

Lucerne’s cold gaze scanned the kneeling maids on the floor.

“Tell the knights to apprehend all the servants working in Santuris.
We need to extract their memories.”

The atmosphere was as if a death sentence had been handed down.
The maid who had poured me poisoned tea fainted.


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